Balancing a side-gig and a full-time job

I’d like to introduce you to Laura, my long-time coworker. We’ve worked together since 2013 (long before we both started at Azlo), and she’s always taken on work that requires a lot of responsibility and energy. She’s also an actor and performer with a comedy troupe that regularly produces musicals; at any given time, she’s usually rehearsing for a show five days a week (Saturday through Wednesday) and performing three (Thursday through Saturday). She’s sustained this demanding schedule for years, and it’s always sort of awed me and our other co-workers that she’s able to do it at all … much less keep it up so long.

Time-management and balancing multiple demanding responsibilities are significant challenges for many entrepreneurs and freelancers, and Laura’s better at these things than practically anyone I know.

Her situation is different than that of many entrepreneurs because she’s not planning to make her side-gig into a business or a full-time career, but this has actually forced her to get even better at sustaining her packed schedule. Instead of holding things together for a few months or a couple of years while building a business, she’s been balancing a full-time career and a demanding side gig for over five years.

Here’s her honest account of how she does it.

You have to be passionate

It’s taken significant, sustained sacrifices for Laura to keep doing everything she does.

In an average week, she works 60-80 hours between both her jobs. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else (like sleep, or socializing with friends, or even cooking a meal). Even though she’s not a morning person, she starts work at 6 am so she’ll be done in time for rehearsals. As a result, she says, “I’m tired all the time, and tired people are emotionally fragile.”

So, why does she do it?

Performing, to me, is like life. I have to be performing. It makes me feel whole and fulfilled and all of that. It’s the rush and the thrill and the feeling of accomplishment—that’s pushed me through the disappointments and the challenges.

Pursuing your passions while holding down a full-time job isn’t easy. It doesn’t always require quite this level of hustle and sacrifice, but it will require trade-offs. To be successful, you need to be passionate enough about your work to make it all worthwhile.

The right relationships make all the difference

In her work at Azlo, Laura has built a lot of trust with her team and that’s helped by allowing her a little added flexibility.

The relationships I’ve formed at work have helped me—it means a lot to work alongside good people who are smart and interesting and supportive of what I’m doing outside of work.  If I need to run an errand because I’m costuming a show, I can leave work for a couple of hours in the middle of the day because my team trusts that I’m going to get my work done one way or another.  

Laura says the relationships that she’s built with the local theatre community have also been a huge part of her success. She’s part of a troupe that produces shows regularly, and between that troupe and the reputation she’s built, she’s able to get many roles without auditioning. That’s huge because lots of actors spend a lot of time auditioning; by skipping this step, she’s able to spend more time performing. She also doesn’t have a lot of free time to hang out with friends, but since she’s close with many of the people she works with onstage, she’s able to catch up with friends when they’re rehearsing or performing together.  

Her relationship with her fiancé is another huge source of support. He’s also an actor (they met when they were cast together in the same show), and they face a lot of the same challenges together.

He’s a performer, and my support, and the person who makes me say no to things sometimes. He’s super patient with me when I do overextend myself and he helps me keep things balanced.

By surrounding herself with people who support her and her work, Laura doesn’t have to choose between her passions and her relationships, or between her day job and her side-gig.

Keep making progress and building momentum

Here’s Laura’s number-one tip for someone who is trying to pursue a passion project on top of an already-demanding life.

Just don’t stop. I mean, I know that sounds like bad advice, like “Just run yourself ragged.” But when I stop and think about how hard it is to do the things I’m doing, I can get into a mindset of thinking that I can’t accomplish all of that. But if I just keep moving and keep working towards the things I want to accomplish—I keep working on the next project—that actually quiets my mind and gives me the strength to continue moving forward.  

By recognizing and celebrating each goal at a time, and constantly making progress (even if it’s slow at times) she’s able to create the emotional energy and momentum that her life requires.

You can’t do it all, but you can do what matters most

There you have it: these three qualities and strategies have allowed Laura to maintain a very demanding job alongside an equally demanding side-hustle for five years.

Building a business or sustaining a side-hustle isn’t easy. But it’s possible if you have passion, people who support you, and you take it one step at a time.